There have been many days that I just wish we could write history differently. Or, like in the Choose Your Own Adventure paperbacks that Bantam Publishing put out for mid-teens in the 1980s and 1990s, you could make a more informed choice and arrive at a more definite conclusion. What if we could have known that the Americans of 1898 would betray us by buying our country from Spain for US$2 million (according to the currency exchange rate at the time)? What if we could have just fought the Spanish on our own and persevered in a war of more than a decade, instead of relying on the superior military strength and firepower of the Americans to have cut the war by 2 years? What if the British, instead of staying only four years, won the war versus Spain and took over Las Islas Filipinas - would our have been named differently, like St. George's Islands* or something? How I wonder.
I was in historic Corregidor two weeks ago, touring the tadpole-shaped island. Corregidor (formerly under the province of Bataan, now under the province of Cavite) is one of five in an island group. The Spanish called it "Corregidor" because it was the first entry point by boat into the Manila Bay area, thus being the island where papers were checked and corrected (Corregidor's name comes from the Spanish verb "corregir," or "to correct"). Meanwhile the other islands - or, in reality, islets - were La Monja (the only island that was not fortified), El Fraile, Caballo and Carabao. The Americans, once they bought the Philippines from Spain, changed it into "Fort Mills." Three of the smaller islets were fortified; El Fraile was renamed "Fort Drum," Caballo became "Fort Hughes" and Carabao was "Fort Frank." Even now, veterans from the USA and Japan are said to quickly recognise the American-era names, but not the older Spanish ones.
The island was pivotal in its role during World War II, because it was where the Allied forces - namely the USAFFE and the Philippine Commonwealth - took their last stand against the Japanese forces from late 1941 till 6th May 1942. A monument on Corregidor island, the Pacific War Memorial, was built to honor the Filipino and American servicemen who participated in the Pacific War. The structure is large rotunda in which a circular altar falls directly under the dome's open center through which light falls on the altar during daylight hours; on 6th May of every year, at exactly 12:00 noon, the sunlight falls right at the center to illuminate the entire dome.
If you discuss the Pacific theatre of World War II, you'd be hardpressed not to find my country, the Philippines, front and center in this historical era. However, it took around 55 to 60 years for the Philippine veterans, already long dwindled in number, to receive just compensation. They fought for love of the Philippines and for her freedom, as well as for fealty to the United States of America which was expected to grant the Philippines its freedom. But a quick Google search shows that after too long, Filipinos who fought in the Pacific theatre of World War II receive no more than US$15,000.00 - and that's if they are alive and breathing as US citizens. Filipinos who have retained citizenship get around US$10,000.00 if I am not mistaken, but they are still lucky, because families of deceased veterans on both sides of the Pacific Ocean don't get a single cent. This is, to me, a Pyhrric victory, not unlike the rape of Manila in 1945 towards the end of World War II; Filipinos have won, yes, but at an exceedingly painful cost.
I've seen these veterans, many of them on wheelchairs, feeble with lines drawn taut on their skins due to age. Their minds may be sharp - their eyes flash at the slightest sound to prove this keenness still inside - but their bodies, fatigued by war and years of waiting, no longer follow. They are pretty much the same age as my grandparents, and even now it is my greatest regret that they did not live to gather this pittance. My mother's father in particular would have benefited greatly from this - it would have made his diabetes treatment much easier on everyone's pockets, for starters; but then again it may have been for the best as well, because there was no psychiatric treatment available at the time of his death to veterans like him, who were never the same after having been in the battlefield. But that's another story for another day.
And as for the Spanish government and private firms? Well, except for scant philanthropic projects and cultural affairs, they keep an excessively low profile and just continue to market their wares. It makes me sad because Mango and Zara - both world-renowned Spanish fashion brands - have great collections, and are said to be made here in the country with super-cheap labour. As far as I can tell (and you are more than free to correct me on this one), neither funding nor curatorial connections helped the Corregidor Foundation in restoring the island.
And so I wonder - what could have been done differently? In the dim hope that history could be rewritten, would we as a people choose to take it? But more importantly, even with the chance of a rewrite or a choice, can we guarantee that the currently-known outcome will still not be the same experience of today? Real life truly is stranger than fiction.
*Hypothetical name only. I do know how important St. George is to the English, though.